Why Labour MPs are right to act now

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June 29, 2016 by Paul Goldsmith


Last Friday, the day after the EU Referendum, I suggested that now was not the time for the Labour Party to fall apart. Instead, they would be better served by standing back and watching the Conservative Party fall apart whilst they concentrated on providing sensible opposition. As we know, it was not to be, and it’s worth explaining why.

By 1:15am on Sunday morning, Hilary Benn had been sacked from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet, having . During Sunday a drib drab of further resignations came in and by Monday it was a flood, leaving Jeremy Corbyn to try to put a Shadow Cabinet together from such a small pool than David Cameron suggested Rosena Allin-Khan, newly elected to Tooting to replace Sadiq Khan, should keep her mobile phone on in case she was needed.

This has been followed today (Tuesday) by a Vote of No Confidence by the Labour Parliamentary Party, which came out 172-40 in favour of the motion, since when some of those who voted against have announced that in light of the result they now have no confidence in Corbyn either.

There are rumours of a formal leadership challenge, in the event of Corbyn not resigning, with Deputy Leader Tom Watson or former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle (who has been clearly finding this whole process extremely difficult, unable to hold back tears in an interview about her decision) to take over as interim or caretaker leader until a new Leader is elected.

As might be expected, Momentum, the political faction that backs Corbyn, has raced into gear to try to back their man. As also might be expected, there have been threats (both of deselection as MPs and also of violence and worse) from those self-appointed protectors of the Labour Leader. There was a demonstration outside Parliament on Monday night – at which Corbyn spoke defiantly.

The current battle is useful for students seeking to understand the location of power in political parties because here the members and the leader are in sync (allegedly) but not the Parliamentary Party. Of course, the Corbynistas cry of the MPs need to ‘respect democracy’ ignores the fact that Corbyn’s ‘mandate’ comes from less than 1% of the electorate, and that democracy actually includes the voting electorate, with which some compromises may have to be made one day.

The reason why this is all happening now is not simply because of Corbyn’s actions and attitude during the EU referendum, in which his leadership was abject, not helped by him visibly not believing what he was saying.

It is because the outcome of the referendum has led to a Conservative leadership election, with the result due by September 9th. The new PM may find a way around the Fixed Term Parliament Act (possibly by saying it should be repealed for these special circumstances) to call a snap election (possibly also to get a mandate for an approach to EU negotiations and when to invoke Article 50). If that happens, the Labour Party simply cannot have Jeremy Corbyn in charge.

The problem, ironically, isn’t just the Conservatives (who may well take back some marginal seats). The real problem is UKIP. They had 124 second places in the 2015 election, many in the North and many to Labour. Since that election Corbyn (whose ‘helpful’ last word before the election was to say that there should be no limit on immigration and who shows no understanding whatsoever of how to speak to the economically dispossessed outside Islington) has been elected, Britain voted to leave the EU and any General Election would most likely be seen as a de facto second referendum on what to do.

It is thus possible, worst case scenario, to see Labour losing up to 100 seats, and maybe more from the 229 they have now. Unless something radical changes.

Reading the many resignation letters that have been sent to Corbyn, I am struck by what links the explanations. This is not all about policy. In fact some people who admit to being highly supportive of many of the Labour leader’s policies have also resigned. It is about leadership. Corbyn simply isn’t a leader. He isn’t someone people can ever imagine being Prime Minister. At a time when the country needs leadership more than ever, Corbyn cannot be the alternative to whoever leads the Conservatives.

So the plan appears to me to put someone with at least SOME credibility as a leader in place, which political news sources put at Angela Eagle, for an election to stem the losses, then try to find a better direction for what would be a 2022 election but possibly even earlier given the state of political flux the country is in at the moment.

But actually, what the country needs now is a proper, credible pro-EU leader full stop. Someone who can be rallied around to take it to what would most probably be a Conservative/UKIP coalition if an election were called in the next few months (I am not joking, UKIP could win up to 50 seats, and yes I do mean Nigel Farage in Whitehall).

I have suggested in another blog a new pro-EU Party (The Progressive Democrats being a working title) which should be formed – if only for the next five years – to help lead the UK out of the mess it is in right now. The Progressive Democrats would include the centre and right of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and even the centrists in the Conservative Party (again, remember that normal political allegiances are irrelevant right now) and would form a pro-EU coalition with the SNP and Plaid Cymru with a mandate to hold a second referendum if they are in Government.

Even if this isn’t possible, the fact is that the Conservative government needs – almost for its own sake, to have a credible opposition which includes a government in waiting. The SNP have been citing passages in Erskine May, the Parliamentary rule book, claiming they must be installed as the official HMLO (Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition) as, because Corbyn would be unable to provide an alternative government, seeing how few people would serve under him. As long as Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader the people he says he wants to help simply have no chance of getting the government to help them.

That’s why this IS the right time for the Labour MPs to be doing what they are doing. I wish them luck though, because as long as the leadership election rules are as they are, the £3 members can gang up to re-elect Corbyn, whether or not that is for the good of the Labour Party. The upcoming leadership contest could thus be a fight for who owns the Labour Party name, with the losing faction leaving it. The far left waited a long time to have a delegate installed at the head of the party (Corbyn believes he is the mouthpiece of those who voted for him, not an actual leader), and now one is there they won’t let go. 

I welcome any comments - whether you agree with me or not!

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